Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


The birth of my first child taught me a very important lesson: no matter how hard you try to prepare yourself for a big event, something can always happen that you are not prepared for (in other words: shit happens). I went to Stockholm bearing this in mind, knowing that I had done all I could and ready to face the unforeseen. Which indeed came.
When we left home, the weathermen were predicting 14℃ and showers in Stockholm on race day, so I didn't pack my winter gear. Already when we arrived there on Thursday we found out it was much colder than expected, and it got worse on Friday with 4℃, rain and wind. Foregone the sightseeing, I rushed to buy a long sleeves shirt at the expo, just like many many others following the advice of the race organization, which had issued a warning about the harsh weather conditions. I had the doubt of whether to wear shorts (well tested for long runs but obviously cold) or capri's (better suited for the weather but with a rough waist band not good on long runs) for the whole day, and then I had a brilliant idea: wear both! The shorts would keep me safe from rubbing and chafing under the waist band, and the capri's would keep me a bit warm.
When Saturday actually came it was only 3℃, very windy, with a persistant rain and with no hopes of it getting any better in the course of the afternoon. Out of 21266 runners who had signed up for the race, more than 5000 didn't even start, and I can't blame them.

Surprisingly, I didn't need to use the potty's before, during or right after the race, also thanks to the fact that the hotel was only about 500m from the start so we could leave our room with no worries just 40 minutes before the gun.
I wore a poncho which I made the big mistake of throwing away after 5km or so. The sleeves of my shirt got soaked in no time and it didn't take long before my hands were pretty much frozen so at 10K I had to use my teeth to open the second gel (and the same for all of the gels after that). My shoes had turned into swimming pools, because even if I tried to be careful and avoid the little ponds of water everywhere, it was inevitable to end in one now and then, and then there was also the splashing from people running next to me. There were quite a few careless runners especially in the beginning, zig-zagging like mad (one of them almost threw me off in the first or second kilometer), changing direction without any warning, throwing away their cups without looking... I guess this is what happens in such big events.
For the first few kilometers I forced myself to slow down even with everybody passing me, as the Garmin was telling me that my pace was around 6:30min/km while my goal was 7:06min/km, but at the 10K mark I understood that the poor device was completely off, thinking I had already run 11km. I sped up then, leaving the 5:15 pacer behind me (I had been wondering which of us was wrong, should've guessed earlier that it was me).
Not long before the end of the first lap (16km) I realized I couldn't go on like that and with a huge effort I took my phone from the belt, called my husband and asked him to meet me with another poncho. Overcoming the Nokia keylock was a serious challenge, luckily he's on speed dial or I surely would not have been able to dial his number nor go through the phonebook.
Things got better then, but of course I had to pay the price of running with a wildly flapping poncho. I will remember the sound of the flapping poncho's like I remember the sound of the slot-machines in Vegas: constant background noise.
The worst came at the half-marathon point: in a completely open field the wind reached 65km/h. Even the top runners report that one of them started laughing hysterically, so hard it was to run against that "wall of wind".
Around km 31 I took the one and only photo of the whole course:

As I said, it was too difficult to operate my phone and I was also too focused on battling the elements to enjoy the view and therefore take pictures, but this was a good way to document the brutal weather so I decided to do it. 
Strange but true, at that point I was really looking forward to crossing the infamous bridge the second time, because it was the last difficulty posed by the course alone and I knew that from a psychological point of view things would get much easier after that. And so it was, running the dreaded mile 20 (which included the bridge) was actually a relief and I felt like I was flying for the last part. Each of the last 5km was faster than the previous, and finally seeing the towers of the stadium with about 1km still to go was the last energy boost which pushed me all the way through the finish line.

I kept shaking for a long long time, even after I had taken a warm shower. I wonder what my body temperature was, I think it was one of the top runners who said that his had dropped to 32℃.

Here's me in my finisher t-shirt having a well deserved dinner, not the most flattering picture but you'll understand I was a tiny bit tired (and I badly need a haircut, didn't dare doing it before the marathon)

I am very satisfied with how it went, for what concerns the running alone I felt good the whole race and I think I could have easily achieved the goal of staying below 5 hours, if only the Garmin hadn't been so confused. Four days after the race, as I write this, my knees are the only part of my body that's still recovering but I can go up and down the stairs without any problem, I just still feel a bit of fatigue. Saturday night was the worst with knees, ankles, Achilles tendons and even a bit hips and calves hurting, but ice and ibuprofen did their job and already the following day only the knees were left still sore (muscular pain kicked in on day 2 after the race, as usual, and is now gone).

I'm still waiting for the full size marathon pictures, here's some thumbnails

And this email is just in:

Congratulations to 
a heroic performance
June 2 was the coldest day in June in Stockholm for the last 50 years, so it was not a good day for running a marathon. Wind and rain made the situation even worse. All those things made the 2012 ASICS Stockholm Marathon the most demanding race in the 34 years history of the race.
We are most impressed that you and almost 15 000 other runners managed to finish the marathon, concerning these cruel conditions. You and other runners were well prepared for the race, and ran wisely.

Kind regards
Athletic clubs Hässelby SK and Spårvägens FK

(For more race reports and results, check

With all that I went through during my training, I still can't believe that I ran the whole thing, walking only at aid stations because there was no other choice. Only a few months ago I was convinced it would not be possible, but thanks to a gentle and effective training program from MyAsics and most of all thanks to a wonderful medical equipe, I did it. I have to say that my daughter was the only one who never for a single moment doubted that I would make it, even in the worst days when my left knee kept me grounded for weeks. She was right!

Thanks also to everybody who supported me in this journey, I hope this will be a source of inspiration for somebody. There are still two weeks of recovery planned in my training program, then I can move on to the next challenge...  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Almost there

I just completed my last run (8km race pace) before leaving for Stockholm. I can't quite explain what it feels like to be almost at the end of this road, especially after all of the obstacles I found on it. 
But I'm Italian, so I won't yet say that I made it to the start line! There are still 4 days and a 5km jog that separate me from that... 

Butterflies are abundant in my stomach every time I stop to think about Saturday, I am already getting nervous and every time that I solve one problem bugging me there is always something new that comes up. I figured out a solution for the potty problem, the weathermen say it will be fresh and wet in Stockholm (14℃ with showers) so now what do I worry about? Chafing and blisters. Should I wear the brand new supercomfy superbreathable bra, or the old worn out and oversized but well tested one? The thing is... you don't notice how BAD something is until you try something GOOD... I sure don't have enough kilometers on the new one, but I think I'll risk it because I got almost allergic to the old one. 
What about the heart rate monitor then? Wearing it with the new one may also be a risk, but I want to have the data...
And socks: I have two pairs exactly the same except for size, should I wear the (slightly) tight smaller or the (slightly) loose larger? 
Last doubt is about the running cap. I have used one for the past couple of months, but I ran without it for the last few days. I like the cap because it keeps my hair under control and it protects me from sun and rain, but I also like to run without it for the better view and feeling now that I can tie my hair nicely. 

I guess I'm just getting too nervous and seeing problems where there really isn't any. I've done what I could to prepare myself at the best of my current possibilities, I think I can reasonably be proud of myself for making it all the way here. 
No blog entries until at least June 4th, so I'll see you on the other side of my marathon mountain. 

ps: there will be live updates on the Stockholm Marathon website, the start for my group is at 12:10, they will provide updates every 5km and I expect to finish in about 5 hours... look me up! My bib number is 22469.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The training nobody talks about

Warning: This post may offend people who pretend they never pee and/or women who pretend they've never wished they were able to do it standing. 

During these past few days after my last long run my mind has been preoccupied with things other than the running itself. The first of these is the weather: we've had such a cold "spring" (if we still want to call it so) that even the average temperature of 18℃ to be supposedly found in Stockholm on June 2nd would present a challenge. Luckily it looks like we are having a taste of summer this week. Last Sunday I went running pretty late in the morning on purpose to let the temperature go up a bit and at the end of my 16km run the thermometer was reporting 25℃. It was a good run, the weather didn't affect me at all so that gave me a bit of confidence about this first of my worries. 

Now for the second thing... I could use many words more or less politically correct, but I'll just stick with the easiest, words that even my 22 months old son can say: pee and poo. I have always been very conscious of the problem that these everyday simple actions can constitute in the middle of a city marathon with thousands of people around you, even (especially?) when you can use a port-a-potty. Then came the story of this woman and the discussion about it with other female runners, and I realized I really needed to think about a solution. I'm lucky I don't have her problems, but I also don't have any natural device which allows me to pee standing. 
Some friends suggested using a pStyle but I'm afraid it would freak me out too much and it surely wouldn't be practical to carry for the whole marathon. Other creative solutions with the same drawbacks include the use of a soft plastic coffee can lid or of a medicine spoon (if your imagination can't help you, google can, but be warned: it will not leave much to imagine). My husband then came up with a brilliant idea: a plastic bag. Not quite discreet so must be used in a port-a-potty, but otherwise easy to fold, carry and use while standing. Actually, I think I have seen once or twice some plastic bags dumped in portable toilets, without being able to understand why... I think I do now. And then I came up with yet another idea, possibly even better than the plastic bag: the paper cups they give at aid stations. No need to carry anything and much more discreet than a big white bag, I could even dare use it outside of a toilet if I'm desperate enough and if I can find a reasonably sized hiding place.
So that's my preferred pee-solution: paper cups in a port-a-potty. I'll carry a bag too, just in case... I surely don't want to end up doing what Paula Radcliffe did, and with every eye watching her! 

Did this talk gross you out? Sorry, but I had warned you. All this is also marathon training and I want to keep track of it here. You can still go on pretending you never pee nor poo. 

As for the actual running, all is good. My right knee still gives me some minor concerns but it should be fine for the marathon, we'll finish fixing it after that. 

Eleven days to go.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Last long run: 32km

Three runs after my last blog entry and before today: 12K on Sunday, 8K on Wednesday and 5K on Friday, and during all three I could feel that my right knee was not quite all right. My plan had a 5K jog on Wednesday and a 8K fast on Thursday, but other commitments lead me to switch distances (but not paces) and do a longer slower run on Wednesday, on completely unknown tracks. I saw water, for a change!

This was a natural reserve, a long tongue of soil cutting deep into the bed of the river, as the river widens and twists around it forming a sort of lake. It was so deserted that it freaked me out and I turned around and didn't go all the way. Those trees right on the shore seemed like the perfect place for rapists and murderers to hide their victims once they're done with them... I know, I know, very unlikely, but the movie in my head was just like that.

On Thursday, it just didn't feel right to do the 5K fast, as my knees had not been happy for the whole run the day before and still weren't happy then. I ran on Friday instead, no real pain but still feeling not quite right. 

And so we get to today and to the last real long run of this training program: 32km. I was really worried I wouldn't be able to make it, I could still feel the fatigue in my knees yesterday. 
I was prepared with many gels and two bottles of electrolyte, plus had organized to meet with my husband at the end of my first lap (15km) to get more drinks, but it wasn't necessary as it was quite chilly. Clear skies but only 8℃ when I left around 7:30am, and maybe 13℃ at the end of my run, 4 hours later. 

The hardest point was probably at 11km, my knees were unhappy and I still had such a long way to go... and, to say it all, I had to pee. Things got a lot better after the brief stop at my very private and very clean port-a-potty (read: "home"). I may really have to get one of those pStyle thingys to use during the marathon in not-so-private and especially not-so-clean port-a-pottys... 
Last 3km were pretty fast (actually the fastest of all except for the first one) because I just wanted to be home and get it over with. How dramatic is the influence of the weather on our runs!

Knees are killing me right now, although I can already feel that there's nothing wrong with the left one, just fatigue. The right one does give me a few worries, so I have abundantly iced it and I also took some ibuprofen, plus the usual menthol gel. What tomorrow brings, we shall see. 
Less than three weeks to race day.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Undo, please?

Floriade 2012

How nice would it be to have an "undo" function in real life? Going to the Floriade the day before my 28km run was really a huge mistake, it disrupted my training program and almost jeopardized my participation to the marathon itself. On Monday evening both of my knees were quite sore but less than they were two weeks earlier, after the 24km run, so I wasn't worried. The bad surprise came the following morning when I woke up to find out that my right knee was a bit swollen on the outside and so sore that I couldn't go down the stairs normally. It was the same kind of pain I had already mentioned to my doctor, only much stronger. He said it would be fixed as a consequence of what he's doing to my spine and that it wasn't necessary to do anything specific about it.
I had already planned on moving my weekly runs from Wed-Thu to Thu-Fri, to allow for two days of rest after the long run, I took some Ibuprofen on Tuesday and Wednesday, plus menthol gel and ice, but still it was a no-go on Thursday. By then the swelling was gone but it was still a bit painful to bend the knee so I didn't risk it.
This morning I went out early with a flexible plan: 12km easy if all was good, only 6km (or even less) if something still felt wrong. When I started to run the knee was so stiff that I thought it would be better to stop immediately, and I was even worried about the rest of my training and the marathon. Something in the back of my head though was telling me to keep going just a bit longer... and a bit longer... and after 2km all of the stiffness was gone. In the end I ran for a bit more than 7km, and now everything seems to be ok.
I have 12km planned for Sunday, we'll see how that goes. I really wish I could "undo" the walking last Sunday, but then I would also lose all of the pictures I took...

Monday, April 30, 2012


Clear skies, not a cloud, sun shining bright and warm, not a breath of wind, 20℃. Ideal conditions for a run? Nope, not if you've always trained in much cooler conditions and you have to run for 28km. 
Add also the fact that yesterday I spent pretty much the whole day walking up and down the Floriade (world's biggest horticultural expo, held in the Netherlands once every decade) and you get the picture of how hard this run was. 
The alarm went off at 7:01am, when I was deeeeeeep asleep, I almost immediately put my feet on the floor but it took a while before I could actually stand and leave the bed. About one hour later I was ready to go with my capri's and one of my new bright orange shirts, a must considering that today we celebrate Her Majesty's birthday here. Everybody wears orange, goes out in the streets and gets drunk... I followed two thirds of the tradition so that's ok. Belt on: two bottles of electrolyte, 4 gels, cell phone, tissues, house keys... was I missing something? Oh yes, the iPod! Anything else? Hmmm... ooops! The Garmin! I went to get it and immediately upon switching it on I found out it had low batteries, so I had to plug it in and wait. Umpf.
In the meantime the sun came out in all its glory and I changed to my shorts, which was the only good thing that resulted from this delay. Oh and I was able to say good morning to the whole family :-)

I eventually left the house at 9am, and immediately realized how hard it was going to be. I could already feel my knees from the beginning and started to doubt: if I feel like this now, how am I going to run a whole marathon? It was a good lesson though, because I realized we can't go walking around doing the tourists in Stockholm on the day before the marathon, we need to find an alternative. 
The heat wasn't helping either, I called my husband to ask him to hand me another bottle of electrolyte at the end of my first lap (10km) and so we had a cute aid station simulation with the whole family. But it was hard, boy was it hard. At 14km I felt discouraged at the thought of being only half way, but still I kept on running. 
I was even attacked multiple times by flocks of black insects about half an inch big, I went through them with my mouth sealed shut and waving my arms like mad... and I was not the only one having that problem. 
My husband and kids found me once more around the 20K mark, and I asked to go fetch some more fluids so they didn't stay with me. There was also a dramatic moment when the last (and much looked forward to) gel didn't open properly and wouldn't let a single drop out... but I somehow managed to squeeze it open. Shortly after that the Garmin beeped to signal again low batteries, but at that point I was in a well known area so I more or less knew how much longer I had to run and it didn't bother me that much. The Garmin though, like me, kept on going hanging by a thread until the end. 
I drank two full bottles in the last 4km, I was dragging myself one step at a time and my pace went down to a ridiculous 8:51min/km in the last kilometer, but I did it.  

Lessons learnt:

  1. The Nike new t-shirt is too tight, I prefer the Saucony (the one in the picture here).
  2. Do not walk all day before a long run, or even worse before the marathon.
  3. Bring as many gels as my belt allows.
  4. These Maxim gels bounce in the belt compartments, but the bouncing is the least annoying solution (as compared to carrying them in my hands or stuffing them under the belt instead of in the compartments, I tried all that today).
  5. Two bottles are not enough even with the drink gels, must organize family aid stations for my last long run. During the marathon I will take a cup at every station.
33 days to go and I finished today's run in 3:33:21, I'll take that as a good sign.